Paraguay, The Catholic Church in
PARAGUAY, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
A landlocked country in the heart of South America, joined to the sea by the great Paraguay and Paraná rivers, the Republic of Paraguay is bordered on the north and northwest by Bolivia, on the northeast, east and southeast by Brazil, and on the southwest and west by Argentina. A predominately agricultural nation, Paraguay benefits from the Gran Chaco, an area of black, fertile pastureland and forest in its west; the eastern landscape rises to grasscovered plains and rolling hills, with marshes and shallow lakes to the south. The Paraguay River runs south through the center of the country on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Natural resources include hydropower, timber, iron ore and manganese; agricultural products consist of cotton, sugarcane, soybeans, corn, wheat, tobacco, tapioca and fruits and vegetables.
Since becoming an independent republic in 1811, Paraguay has been involved in two international wars: that of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (1865–70), during which most of its adult male population was killed, and the Chaco War against Bolivia (1932–35), during which it gained territorially. A military dictatorship was overthrown in 1989, ushering in a series of freely elected, democratic governments. The population of Paraguay was overwhelmingly mestizo by 2000. Deforestation—the result of employing slash and burn methods to render farmland—resulted in a loss of five million acres of rain forest by 2000.
The Early Church. The area was originally inhabited by the Cario people and was discovered by Alejo García
in 1524, after which colonization was begun. During the colonial period Spain provided an ample number of priests for the area and protected the religious orders in order to evangelize the Cario and multiply the subjects of the Crown. The Franciscans arrived in 1537, and from Asunción carried on missions in interior regions. Among the early missionaries were Alonso Lebrón, Alonso de San Buenaventura, Luis de bolaÑos, Bernardo de Armenta and the natives Gabriel de la Anunciación and Francisco de Guzmán. The first bishop to arrive was Pedro Fernández de la Torre. Mercedarians, Hieronymites and Dominicans preceded the Jesuits, each orders with schools and convents. The most famous Jesuits in colonial Paraguay were Manuel de Lorenzana, Antonio ruÍz de montoya, Nicolás del techo, Pedro lozano, Francisco Xavier de Charlevoix, Nicolás Yapuguai, José Guevara, Simón Bandini, José cardiel, José Insaurralde, Diego de Boroa, Manuel Paramás, Nicolás Mastrilli, Alonso Barzana, Martin dobrizhoffer, Pablo Restivo, José Sánchez Labrador, Pedro Montenegro, Roque Gonzáles de Santa Cruz, Domingo Muriel and José Quiroga. The principal obstacles for the propagation of the faith were learning of languages, the nomadic character of the native Cario, the ravages of the Portuguese bandeirantes, and the conflicts between political and religious authorities. The first missionaries used music and gifts to attract the Cario, and after learning their language they used songs and prayers to gain participants in their doctrinas and oratories, the foundations of the reductions that were large communal centers of learning and enterprise. The success of the reductions became of concern to the government, which successfully dismantled them in 1768 by removing the Jesuits from Paraguay.
As the Catholic population grew, so did the need for a hierarchy. The Church of Asunción was erected in 1547, and the canonical founder of the see of Paraguay was the Spaniard Juan de Barrios, although he never reached his bishopric but was succeeded by Pedro Fernández
de la Torre (1556–72). During the first four centuries of its existence, the see was governed for only 200 years and was otherwise vacant or abandoned. Of the first 40 bishops, only 20 came to Paraguay. In 1929 the ecclesiastical Province of Paraguay was erected.
The Church and an Independent State. The most important institute founded in Asunción during the colonial period was the Colegio Seminario Conciliar de San Carlos, which was inaugurated on April 12, 1783 and educated almost all the leaders of the independence movement. During the colonial period the Church was very rich, and held ranches on government lands. During the independence period the Church was sympathetic toward the revolution and some priests worked for its success. No major reform touched the Church as a result of independence, which was gained on May 14, 1811, although relations between Church and State became relatively tense because of the right of patronage that the new state assumed and that influenced the election of bishops. In 1822 the dictator José Gaspar de Francia confiscated all Church properties and transformed its convents into barracks. During the War of the Triple Alliance the most serious crisis occurred between Church and State as a result of the execution of Bishop Manuel Antonio palacios in 1868.
There was no lack of priests until the War of the Triple Alliance. At that point, Isidro Gavilán reorganized the Church due to a lack of clergy, and the Church was leaderless for 11 years. The first postwar priests were ordained in 1886 by Bishop Pedro Juan Aponte. They included Juan Sinforiano bogarÍn, who later became the first archbishop of Asunción. Their funds came from the foreign mission bureaus of each order and the contributions of the faithful, and their work supplemented the social work of the state.
The Modern Church. Following the War of the Triple Alliance, Paraguay went into an economic decline, due predominately to the lack of its adult male workforce, most of whom had been killed or maimed during the war. In 1932 the country found itself at war again, this time with Bolivia, from which it won several large areas of land in the Chaco by 1935. This fertile region, believed to contain oil reserves, sparked an improvement in Paraguay's economic outlook. In 1954 Gen. Alfredo Stroessner took power in a coup backed by the U. S. government. While some efforts were made to aid landless peasants, the declining economy forced the government to become increasingly repressive.
During the mid-20th century, the Church was still under the protection of the state and was supported by the contributions of the faithful. Absolute divorce was not recognized; only physical and financial separation was legal under Paraguayan law. The Universidad Católica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, founded in 1960, was the first private university officially recognized by the Paraguayan government. In addition there were primary and secondary schools conducted by religious throughout the republic. In spite of these schools, the influence of Catholic teaching in the country was not high, and this trend continued into the next few decades as the forces of liberalism and anticlericalism collided with the region's increasing economic decline and the resultant poverty and unemployment. The dictatorship of President Alfredo Stroessner, which had by now lost U.S. backing, drew increasing ire from Church leaders, who blamed his mismanagement for the nation's economy. Due to the increase in evangelical missionaries, Protestant activity grew in the region, its influence spreading through the rural areas in particular.
In 1989 a military coup led by General Andrés Rodrígez deposed Stroessner, in part in defense of the Church. Under the civilian presidency of Juan Carlos Wasmosy, who gained power in democratic elections in 1993, the economic crisis continued, forcing the unemployed
into protest marches by mid-decade. An election later in the decade was followed by upheaval as President Raul Cubas was implicated in the March of 1999 murder of vice president Luis Maria Argana and forced to resign. While attempting to prevent the collapse of democracy against such upheaval, Church leaders remained outspoken in the political arena, particularly in regard to issues of social welfare, and denounced the corruption that had pervaded both society and government. In 1997 the government initiated a training program, to be run by the Catholic Church, to train the nation's military in "the respect of human dignity and in a culture of social peace and reconcilliation."
Into the 21st Century. By 2000 there were 323 parishes tended by 250 diocesan and 441 religions priests. Other religious, which included approximately 180 brothers and 1,300 sisters, dedicated themselves to the propagation of the faith, teaching at the 160 primary and 131 secondary schools and assisting in hospitals, at missions established in the interior of the country, homeless shelters and other centers of social assistance. In 1998 the apostolic nunciature opened a hospital for HIV-positive children to be administered by the Vincentian Sisters, at Tablada Nueva, in honor of the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's pontificate. Despite the fact that the government had no state religion, the Church often performed Mass at state functions. Paraguay's traditional pilgrimage was to the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Miracles in Caacupé, near Asunción, which had a legendary origin.
Bibliography: a. n. achÁ duarte, Anuario eclesiástico del Paraguay (Asunción 1963). Registro oficial de la República del Paraguay (1869). h. ferreira gubetich, Geografía del Paraguay (4th ed. Asunción 1960). g. furlong cÁrdiff, Misiones y sus pueblos guaraníes (Buenos Aires 1956). c. r. centuriÓn, Historia de las letras paraguayas, 3 v. (Buenos Aires 1947–51); Historia de la cultura paraguaya, 2 v. (2d ed. Buenos Aires 1961).
[c. r. centuriÓn/eds.]